Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Bio & Quotations

Had a bit of the blues the other day, and a good friend emailed some encouragement. Included was a quotation from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And that got me to thinkin’ and researchin’…

I enjoy sharing bios of interesting people with you. And I think it’s a meaningful exercise, because there’s just so much we can learn from either their work or their lives. Such is certainly the case with Mr. Longfellow.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a 19th Century American poet and educator. Remember the piece, “Paul Revere’s Ride?” Written by Longfellow. And he was one of the Fireside Poets; along with William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


I’d sit at fireside with any of them.

Born in Portland, Maine (Massachusetts, then) in 1807, Longfellow ultimately became a professor at Harvard. But he retired from teaching to devote full attention to his writing. Interestingly, he lived the remainder of his life in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and his home was a former Revolutionary War headquarters of George Washington. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived to the age of 75.

Longfellow was known for a lyrical poetry, often based in mythology and legend. He was the most popular American poet of his day, and he was very popular in Europe.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew personal tragedy and pain all too well. His wife, Fanny, was placing locks of their children’s hair into an envelope and was going to seal it with hot wax. Somehow her dress caught fire. Longfellow awoke from a nap and rushed to throw a rug over her; however, it was too small. He even tried to extinguish the flames with his body – but it was too late.

Fanny died the following morning and Longfellow was unable to attend her funeral because of the burns he sustained in trying to save her. His facial burns resulted in his abstinence from shaving, the resultant beard becoming his trademark.

Longfellow was devastated by Fanny’s death and resorted to ether and laudanum to cope. Ether was a commonly used anesthetic through the mid-1960s; and laudanum was a popular alcohol-based herbal remedy, containing 10% opium powder.

Longfellow fretted over his sanity and begged not to be sent to an asylum. He wrote he was, “…inwardly bleeding to death.” What an amazingly powerful and descriptive self-assessment!

Though he never fully recovered, he managed to gather himself and continue writing.

Given the volumes of his work, and his life circumstances, coming upon meaningful Longfellow quotations isn’t much of a challenge. I found these especially powerful, and the first is the quotation my friend sent my way. I hope you enjoy them…

The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.

All things must change to something new, to something strange.

All things come round to him who will but wait.

Build today, then strong and sure, With a firm and ample base; And ascending and secure. Shall tomorrow find its place.

If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again. Wisely improve the present, it is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear and with a manly heart.

The nearer the dawn the darker the night.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – a great writer and human being. Don’t you think?

  • Lisaf October 5, 2010, 8:11 pm

    I love this post — thank you so much for taking the time to pull together this information on Longfellow and for sharing his words of wisdom…

    • chipur October 5, 2010, 9:43 pm

      Ah, you’re welcome, Lisa. I love doing this kind of work. I learn tons, and someone else may pick something up. Longfellow was quite a guy!

  • Steve Schwartzman August 7, 2013, 8:48 am

    Longfellow did a lot of translating from Romance languages, so “All things come round to him who will but wait” is almost certainly a translation of the French saying “Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre.”

    The quotation about rain is from the poem “The Birds of Killingworth.”

    • chipur August 7, 2013, 11:14 am

      Thanks for the visit and contribution, Steve…